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New York Post Reports Controversy

The lead article in the Page Six column of The New York Post May 31, 1997 reported on the exclusive Chinagate stories in The City Review zine on the Internet about controversies over the attribution of paintings in the Chinese Paintings department of the Metropolitan Museum.

What was particularly interesting were the comments, in reaction to questions from The New York Post, of Maxwell Hearn, the curator of Chinese Paintings at the museum. Acknowledging "anxiety," he defended the museum's Chinese Art holdings by stating that "We've had the finest scholars from mainland China come through and they, to a man, say we have one of the greatest collections of Chinese paintings outside of China."

Not the most important and nothing specific about whether all such experts from China agreed on all the attributions. Given the brevity of the item, which was as big as they get on Page Six, perhaps the most famous "gossip" column in the world of journalism, perhaps Mr. Hearn's comments were not reported in full, but nonetheless constituted a less than flat denial of the "problems."

Indeed, the comments of Mr. Hearn, who has worked for many years with Wen Fong, the Princeton University professor who has coordinated most of the museum's Chinese Art acquisitions since the early 1970's and is the museum department's "consultative chairman," did not constitute a flat denial.

It did, however, throw down the gauntlet to distinguished experts and authorities, such as Sherman Lee, the former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art who happens to have been one of the most celebrated museum directors in the country, the author of the leading text book on Asian Art and one of three outside experts asked by the Metropolitan to "vet" the 1973 Wang acquisition. Mr. Hearn maintained, according to The New York Post Page Six article, that "Because Western scholars are not familiar with calligraphy, people as famous as Sherman Lee doubted their authenticity."

One wonders what the very distinguished scholars and experts quoted extensively in The City Review articles would think of such a cavalier dismissal and the charge that they were not familiar with calligraphy!

Mr. Hearn's comment in The New York Post article that scholars are now familiar with the style of Chang Ta-Ch'ien, a self-professed forger of Chinese painters, and can pick out his forgeries is intriguing since it is not clear whether "now" implies that scholars were not familiar in 1973 when the museum made its first major acquisition from C. C. Wang. It is also unclear whether he meant to imply that said scholars have indeed picked out his forgeries and whether any of them are at the Metropolitan and/or in the C. C. Wang collections.

Perhaps he meant to state that the museum's understanding and expertise on the subject is supreme and that all other experts and interpretations are wrong. Such a statement conceivably could be right, but strains reason considerably. In any event, most scholarly publications by museums indicate the opinions of various experts in the field on specific works of art and it will be interesting to see whether the museum's future publications and catalogues on its Chinese Paintings and the C. C. Wang collection in particular will include such comments, a great many of which are at odds with its own interpretations, a matter of not inconsequential concern in the art market and in the world of appraisals for insurance and Internal Revenue Service purposes.

The City Review will be happy to print the full comments of the Metropolitan Museum on its Chinagate stories if it receives them, and, of course, welcomes other comments. E-Mail can be directed to The City Review from its home page, see below.

The Page Six article was also "posted" on The New York Post's own World Wide Web site on the Internet, which is http://www.nypostonline.com/saturday/page6/page61.htm.

What follows is the complete Page Six banner headline and full lead story:

Page Six

by RICHARD JOHNSON

with SEAN GANNON and Jeanne MacIntosh

Questions over new Met artwork

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is hailing the gift of 11 Chinese paintings from the collection of C.C. Wang as one of the most important acquisitions in the museum's history. But Carter Horsley, editor of the City Review, an Internet magazine, suggests that the Met take a closer look at the artwork.

When the museum bought an earlier batch of 25 paintings from Wang in1973, Horsley, then a New York Times reporter, wrote a story that raised troubling questions about the attributions of a number of the works. Horsley says that the edited version of the story minimized the criticisms. "The full story has never come out," Horsley wrote in a recent City Review.

Horsley added that the Wang episode of 1973 involves "at best, a cover-up and at worst one of the greatest scandals in art history." The Times' handling of the story, he insisted, was "a severe tarnish" on the reputation of the newspaper.

According to Horsley, "Many experts were aghast" at the 1973 purchase not only because of questions of attribution but also because some art experts believed the collection included several paintings by Chang Ta-Ch'ien (also spelled Zhang Daquin), "the self-professed greatest forger in the history of art." Chang Ta-Ch'ien, who died in 1983, was also a prominent collector and friend of Wang's.

Several experts felt that as few as perhaps five or six of the 25 Wang paintings were important. Horsley, who once wrote for The Post, quoted the venerable Sherman Lee, then at the Cleveland Museum of Art, describing one of the paintings as "a dog."

But Maxwell Hearn, curator of Chinese paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, attributed "anxiety" about the Wang paintings to lack of training in Chinese brushwork among Western scholars. "Because Western scholars are not familiar with calligraphy, people as famous as Sherman Lee doubted their authenticity," he said.

As for Chang Ta-Ch'ien, the forger, Hearn says that scholars are now familiar with his style and can pick out his forgeries.

The museum is purchasing the new Wang paintings with money of an undisclosed amount given by New York financier Oscar L. Tang.

"We've had the finest scholars from mainland China come through and they, to a man, say we have one of the greatest collections of Chinese paintings outside of China," Hearn said.

Thomas Hoving, director of the museum at the time of the original purchase, praised Wang's connoisseurship in his 1993 memoir, "Making the Mummies Dance." "The Riverbank," a landscape painting in the new batch, is said to be so valuable that Wang considered trading it for his son, who remained behind in China, but the younger Wang got out on his own.

Chinagate, the full, edited, but unpublished 1976 article about the 1973 Wang acquisition

Chinagate, the rewritten and shortened published 1976 article about the 1973 Wang acquisition

Update, the 1997 article in The City Review updating the 1973 Wang acquisition prior to the announcement of the Tang gift of more Wang paintings.

Chinagate Revisited, the article in The City Review commenting on the 1997 Tang Gift


Major donor of Chinese paintings at Metropolitan says museum violated contract and threatens to take back paintings and also disputes some of the extravagant claims by the museum about centerpiece of recent Tang gift of paintings from C. C. Wang collection.

The City Review's Chinagate coverage makes Page Six of The New York Post the second time in four days

Attributions

The New Yorker magazine quotes expert with serious doubts about centerpiece of recent Tang gift, doubts that were first raised in The City Review, and discloses that C. C. Wang plans to auction 40 works at Sotheby's where his grandson is the "resident Chinese-painting expert."

Orientations magazine carries two long commentaries on controversial attributions of Chinese art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Letter from The City Review sent to, but unpublished by, Orientations Magazine

Metropolitan Museum Shows C. C. Wang Collection in 1999 and concedes there are scholarly disputes over "Along the Riverbank"

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